The haze hung so heavy it felt like I could stumble through for an eternity and never come out the other side. So many questions swirled inside of my head that I couldn’t slow them down and take the time to examine them one-by-one.
I knew for certain that I was lost and that my body was broken down and frigid. I trudged uphill barefoot in the snow on a slope that seemed to be getting steeper all the time. My vision was so blurred I couldn’t focus on an object five feet in front of my face. My body was in constant pain, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where the damage had been done. It felt like I was splitting apart all over. Like my body had been beaten on the outside and punctured from within.
I must have still been up in the mountains. It was the only place with inclines like that and where the snow had already fallen so early into the fall season.
I was excited at first when Benjamin had invited me up but admittedly apprehensive to meet his family. Immediate family members accepting my lifestyle choices was a world I knew nothing about. I was so nervous my arm was shaking when I dropped my travel bag in the trunk of Benjamin’s Mercedes Sedan while he idled in my driveway.
Benjamin had a way of soothing me and making me feel like I’d blown everything out of proportion. He was always there to drag me back down to Earth when I started getting restless. He went into great length over how progressive his parents were, how this was nothing new for them, and I was stressing over nothing.
I swear he could put me at ease in any situation– even when he first rounded the bar to take the empty stool next to mine, when he first asked me out for coffee when I was too shy to ask myself even though I wanted to so badly. He even caught me with the little things. Like when I freaked out over whether or not I’d remembered to lock my front door or when I thought the same damn SUV had been following us for over an hour since we got off the interstate.
No one had ever made me feel so safe and it made me love him like I’d never loved anyone else before. It didn’t matter that we’d been together only a couple of months. There were no doubts in my mind that he was the one for me.
So where was he while I stumbled through the snow and the darkness? I still couldn’t make out any distinct shapes in my immediate surroundings. I looked up and squinted to see if I could see where the mountain topped out. It was helpless. I only saw a rainbow of white stretching up until it collided with the blackness of the sky somewhere way above.
It didn’t feel like I had a ton of options. So, I kept moving blindly moving upwards without any direction or purpose that I could recall.
I wanted so badly to know how exactly I could have ended up in such an unfortunate position. If I was outside barefoot, dressed in tattered clothing then I surely couldn’t have been that far away from the house. I mean, I could only have made it so far in such a state– at least on my own accord.
That was unless I’d done something irrational like toboggan down the mountain on my belly or gone for a solo walk and pushed myself to a state of disrepair and desperation.
It wasn’t likely. All I knew for certain was that something inside me compelled me to travel upwards.
Soon something finally changed in my vision which might help me find the explanation. Somewhere way up there I saw tiny flashing lights. There were two of them blinking in succession. One was red and the other blue. I rubbed my eyes over and over like it was some kind of winter mirage, but they persisted there flashing in the darkness.
I couldn’t tell how far up they were or however long it would take me to get there. But they served as something to pursue at the very least.
Perhaps they were mounted on the back of Benjamin’s house in a place I hadn’t seen. Maybe they were markers to alert you of the driveway entrance from the road but I didn’t remember seeing any on the way in.
I tried my best to picture what the lot had looked like. I remembered it looking immaculate– the type of mountain chalet you’d see in a travel brochure. It was built uphill from the road, the driveway winded up towards the house in an s-shape. It had two stories with floor-to-ceiling windows all along the front and built high enough that you could see above the trees and directly over the canyon miles away.
Benjamin’s family was absolutely loaded and never once did he tip me off that he came from such wealthy beginnings.
Humbleness. Another alluring quality in a man.
The masonry of the stone pathway leading up to the door looked like it had just been completed earlier in the day. His parents peeked at us from the kitchen with warm smiles on their faces when we walked in and kicked the snow off our boots. They wiped their palms down their aprons and both approached to shake my hand and tell us they were so relieved that we arrived when we did. The forecast predicted high winds and a heavy snowfall they worried might trigger an avalanche close to the house. There had already been two up in the mountains that year.
Benjamin’s sister, who couldn’t have been more than ten, ran down from her room and dodged my handshake to tightly hug me around the waist. She said Benjamin only had great things to say about me and wanted to know why I hadn’t already come to visit sooner.
I’d been there thirty seconds and it felt more like home than my actual home did. At first, I struggled to find words, to thank them for their hospitality let alone introduce myself. They all chuckled and told me not to be nervous. His mother said that everything was okay and that I wasn’t the first handsome young man that Benjamin had brought home for them to have the pleasure of meeting.
I envied that family.
Maybe I could have become a part of it one day.
Benjamin grabbed me by the forearm and led me into the living room. They had a flame half my height raging in the stone fireplace on the far wall. Hot appetizers were packed onto a long rectangular plate on the coffee table. I distinctly remember walking right up to the giant window that overlooked the canyon as the first snowflakes drifted down from the night sky and pressed against the glass.
I’m sure it was the beginnings of the same snowfall coming down on me while I trudged up the side of the mountain. It was maybe a little heavier but still that pleasant kind of fluff that was not so different than I remember seeing.
Little rocks started to poke out in the terrain. They served as useful points of reference once I was close enough to see them and some were high enough for me to clutch onto and use for support. I just had to make sure I didn’t step in the wrong crevice somewhere and injure myself any further. Navigating through the haze and pain was difficult enough on its own. Any further damage and I would have doomed myself to die on the side of that mountain. It was already going to be a stretch to make it as it was.
I looked up again and saw the lights still flashing– marginally bigger in my vision than they shined before. I saw no other option but to continue pressing on.
There was a flicker of excitement in thinking that blue and red lights most likely meant an emergency vehicle was up there. It was reasonable enough to believe that they were there to search for me.
So if someone had called for help, then what had happened exactly once I was safely inside the house? Benjamin’s family and I were all settled in and comfortable around the coffee table. The pot roast’s mouth-watering aromas drifted in from the kitchen. I sat on the end of a three-seater next to his sister and Benjamin leaned back on the leather recliner across from me. He sat just like he always did– with his feet up on the main cushion and his knees an inch in front of his chin. He smiled at me as if to say I told you so and I’d never been so delighted to be wrong.
I thought maybe it would be the night we’d end up making love for the first time. For as loving and compassionate of a heart Benjamin possessed he’d been sparse with his physical affection up until that point. He’d teased me with the idea of doing it in his childhood bedroom upstairs, which still had his single mattress beneath the window and its own incredible view of the mountains.
It would have been a dream if things had ended up that way. In honesty, I hadn’t been bothered by waiting so long. I liked the suspense if anything. It made Benjamin feel different from all the others.
Of course, things hadn’t played out that way. The last thing I could remember with certainty was his father politely excusing himself to check on the roast… and then blackness? Something must have intervened around then to cut the flow of memories. It had to have been catastrophic. Had someone barged in? Had there been some kind of an explosion?
It didn’t seem likely.
The pain gradually gave way to numbness. It was relieving but wouldn’t bode well for me reaching the flashing lights. I’d lost all sensation in my feet and the ends of my fingers which I was constantly digging in and out of the snow for balance at every chance I got.
Somewhere inside me the urge to carry on started to dwindle. I thought how pleasant it would be to take a little break and curl up into a ball if only to rest my eyes for a couple of minutes. I could even build a little shelter in the snow and then continue after my body had enough time to rest and heal.
I took a deep breath and focused myself as best I could. I forced the submissive thoughts out of my mind knowing that stopping for any significant amount of time would mean never making it off the side of that mountain. I held my eyes closed and counted to ten before opening them again.
Perhaps it was a figment of my imagination, but for a brief moment I could have sworn I saw clearly when I peered up to the flashing lights again. They were much bigger, which meant I had made significant progress. Now, I could make out the general space around them. The terrain looked like it flattened out to an even plane. I thought I saw an outline of a vehicle, but I was still too far to say for sure.
The thought of sitting in the back of a police cruiser made me feel warm. It was enough to keep me putting one leg in front of the other.
While I kept climbing, I could never keep my mind from searching back through the fragmented memories to see if there was something I had overlooked. It was hard to believe that I hadn’t been forcibly put in that position. Had there been anyone else at the house aside from his family? Was there someone who knew we were headed up there and didn’t like it?
I supposed it was still possible I’d been foolish enough to do this to myself. It could have been an honest mistake. Maybe I’d felt brave enough to sneak away from the house and enjoy one of the cigarettes I’d stashed in my coat pocket. Maybe I’d wandered a little too far and lost my footing and slid all the way down and fallen unconscious on the way. It was plausible enough.
The slope started to steepen sharply beneath my feet. I figured it would stay that way until I reached the plateau which I was sure I’d seen in the area of the flashing lights. The last stretch was going to be the hardest but certainly not impossible after all the anguish I’d pushed myself through to make it to that point.
From that point on, I kept my eyes on the flashing lights and with each passing step, they got closer and more real. The details of the shapes around them started to come into focus. There were big spaces between the trees and a vehicle parked next to a shed. It didn’t look like Benjamin’s Mercedes. More like an SUV.
Movement caught my eye. There was a black mass scaling up one of the thicker tree branches close to the middle of the clearing. It seemed awfully high for someone to try a casual climb during a snowy winter night.
I tried to call out but the curdle that escaped my mouth was so subdued it sounded barely more than a whisper. I was so cold that all the feeling from my lower half was gone. I thought that at any moment my legs wouldn’t react to the signals from my brain urging them to ignore their damage and press on up for only a couple of meters more.
I was lucky in the end. I did finally reach flat ground before my body finally failed. Not much was working in terms of extremities but at least I still had my senses when I finally fell face flat in the snow.
Frozen grass crunched beneath my cheek. Some of the dark shapes— mostly the smaller ones started to move. There were four of them in total. The black mass in the tree moved its head and then started to shimmy back down towards the ground. A single rope with a ring around the bottom hung from the branch where it had had just been perched. It wavered from side to side in the gentle breeze coming up the mountain.
I heard the voices next. None of them were perfectly clear but still so easily recognizable. They came right up close until their boots were right next to my head. A big glob of spit flew down and landed next to my eye.
“This one’s got some fight in ‘em, Ben. You sure can pick ‘em.”
“Tied the rope just as tight as always, dad. He just kept squirming once I had him up there.”
Benjamin’s voice rang clearly in my ear— there was no mistaking it was his. Except now it was in a tone like I’d never heard it before. There was loathing in it.
“We’re lucky he came back up in this direction, boy. This one is strong. He ate more than a few of your mother’s special Mozza sticks too. We would have been in big trouble if he made it up near the road.”
“Told you those police lights on the Range Rover would come in handy one day.”
“So. We gonna string this fairies back up so he can go out like the others?”
“I don’t feel like climbing up again.”
A boot pressed down against my shoulder and started to push me back down in the direction I’d just come from.
“He won’t make it back up a second time.”
The Devil walks among us.
He manifests himself in all the minute fears that creep inside your head during the late hours of the night. The Devil’s In The Details Volume 2 features twenty stories of psychological horror to seize your mind and resurface all the thoughts you tried to bury.
Monsters in the dark, hometown possessions, ghosts bound by tragedy, deals with the Devil– the twists and turns of this collection will keep you up at night wondering why you ever let yourself get sucked in.
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